Your vacation dream begins. You see a program, read an article, talk to a friend about their trip to magnificent such and such country/island/themed destination, and decide you’re going to have to go and see it for yourself. But wait, you’re on a solid budget – how is this adventure going to fit into your financial state and plans?
Not to worry, it’s research time.
There are plenty of ways to have a perfectly wonderful vacation to your dream-spot on a budget. Plan for plenty of time to shop around online, and keep it simple, like this list.
Getting From Here to There and Around
- First, look diligently for the cheapest flights – they’re out there whether you’re planning a trip years in advance, or for the upcoming weekend. The middle ground here is not so great for finding deals - a couple of months before your trip is primetime territory for expensive flight costs. Watch out for high-season travel, it’s always more expensive, sometimes much more. And sign up for one of those travel-alert notices. Set it up to notify you about deals to anywhere you think you might want to go, see what comes up cheapest and first, and go there.
- Once you’ve hit the ground, unless you’ve opted for an all-inclusive resort or cruise, you’ll need to pick a way to cruise around. You’ve got options, believe me: bus cards; Eurail passes, single-ticket trains, cheap inter-country or island flights (sometimes very, very low), car hire/rental/purchase-buyback programs, bicycling, and in a few hold-out-for-safety places, your hitchhiking thumb. You all know the warnings on that one.
Time for Sleep
We all have our maximum comfort requirements - it’s something like the Ritz. Fortunately for the world of budget travel, there are minimum accommodation requirements for nearly everyone’s practical needs. Know your range both amenities and budget-wise, research your options before you go, and be prepared to find something cooler, cheaper, or both once you get there. Consider your many choices - from all levels of hotels, to couch surfing, to al fresco camping.
- Cooking where you stay is the best way to save on food costs. Just look for accommodation with a kitchen, or ones that let you cook there. (Some hostels do, for example, and there are great family-friendly ones around.)
- If savoring full-on local flavors without having to do the dishes sounds especially delicious, look on the many travel/food blog sites for recommendations. Once you arrive at your destination, just find out where the locals go - you’ll often get better quality for half the price, or less.
- Bring or buy your own snacks.
Get Thee to Your Budget
Be a bit flexible, but do have an idea about how much you have to spend. And unless you’re a seasoned traveller or keep track naturally in your head, write down what you’re spending – it’s the little things like tourist-priced souvenirs and not bringing your own liquid travel containers that can give you bank-statement sticker shock when you come back home. Also, look out for vacation package deals - you can save big with these, and it makes budgeting a lot easier.
Show Me the Money
If you’ll need to exchange currency, plan ahead to avoid the extra mark-up and fees you’ll pay at airports and other tourist funnels. It is best to exchange enough for a day or two at your local bank before you go, then find out where the low-cost exchange houses are after you arrive and scope out your neighborhood.
- If you’ll be using your phone or smartphone while traveling, unless you have an international plan, turn off your roaming charges before you go. Consider buying a local SIM card and definitely use free wi-fi communication apps like Skype if you have them.
- Weigh the cost/benefits of Tourist Discount Cards.
- Pack light – for all kinds of reasons.
You know the old adage “If you’ve seen one Picasso you’ve seen them all.” Well that’s not true, but you can certainly get a taste of many well-known (and unknown!) artists at lesser-known and less expensive local museums and art galleries. Don’t skip the Louvre or the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, but do read the local papers on the lookout for free and inexpensive venues.